Notes: Melky's slump not worrisome
Studying outs, Long sees few flaws in outfielder's approach
ST. PETERSBURG -- Melky Cabrera hasn't seen many hits scoot through of late, but in Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long's eyes, the center fielder's swing hasn't been as off as his recent skid might indicate.
Playing a hunch, Long went back through the Yankees' recent game video and confirmed that Cabrera has been putting decent shots in play. They were just going to the wrong spots, prompting a conversation on Tuesday in which Cabrera was advised to try and rap the ball back up the middle more.
"The swing mechanics are pretty good overall," Long said. "It's the mental approach to the game that we're trying to work on. We're trying to change the plan a little bit and go another way."
Cabrera, batting .279 entering play on Tuesday, was just 5-for-24 on the Yankees' seven-game homestand against the Orioles and Blue Jays. Of particular note to Long was Cabrera's propensity for hitting the ball to the right side.
Cabrera grounded out four times to second base and four times to first base on the homestand, which did include its bright points -- Cabrera had a game-winning single in the 10th inning on Saturday and tied a career high with five RBIs, helping erase some of the sting of a disappointing final regular-season home series.
"Usually, mechanical things would be related to something like a tentative swing," Long said. "That's not the case with Melky. He's hitting hard ground balls -- they're just at people. If you took all those balls and put them up the middle instead of him hitting them to the right side, he'd probably have had seven or eight more hits."
Long said that Cabrera was very receptive to the tweaks, nodding and telling the hitting coach, "Today, everything is up the middle."
"We talked a little today," Cabrera said. "He told me, 'Too many balls to the right side.' The swing is no problem. I just swing every day and work."
Celebrate good times: Should the Yankees clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday, there will be celebrating in the visitors' clubhouse at Tropicana Field.
The Yankees' magic number for ensuring postseason play stood at one entering the game against the Devil Rays, and manager Joe Torre said that he signed off on his club spraying a little bubbly in anticipation of October.
"We'd like to be able to do it ourselves and enjoy it," Torre said. "It's something to be proud of, getting to the postseason, especially with what went on this year."
Since being a season-low eight games under .500 on May 29 at 21-29, the Yankees went 69-37 before Tuesday to lead the Major Leagues in wins and winning percentage (.651).
Oz aftermath: The Yankees' rookies left New York in Broadway-caliber "The Wizard of Oz" costumes on Monday, trotting out a faux yellow-brick road to the team bus and signing autographs for fans in full homage to the 1939 Judy Garland film.
A day later at Tropicana Field, though, most players were happy to just hold the memories as their only souvenirs of the evening. The rookies attended a Jason Giambi-hosted party in full outfit before finally retiring for the evening.
"And I got rid of that thing as fast as I could," said left-hander Chase Wright, who was assigned to portray Glinda, the Good Witch of the East.
Right-hander Ian Kennedy's costume might have been a little too good. Outfitted as Dorothy, Kennedy learned that he still holds quite a bit of anonymity when the veterans forced players to sign autographs outside Yankee Stadium; fans clamored for the Cowardly Lion, Joba Chamberlain, en masse, but one asked Kennedy, "Who are you, anyway?"
"Maybe the costume was just that good," Kennedy said. "I think you should get more attention dressed as Dorothy as a guy. It was pretty fun. But obviously, everyone wanted Joba."
On a more baseball-related topic, Kennedy is still feeling the tightness in his upper back move around, and he's not expected to pitch for the remainder of the regular season. He will continue to travel and work out with the Yankees in the postseason and could be added to the roster if the club moves deep into October.
Breaking the "Rules:" As Torre confirmed in New York on Monday, the Yankees plan to use Chamberlain on back-to-back days at some point in their final stretch to prepare him for a similar assignment in the postseason.
That could happen as soon as this week, though Torre said he would wait until the Yankees clinched a playoff spot before experimenting with the 22-year-old setup man.
"Once we win a game, we can do a lot of stuff," Torre said.
Additionally, the Yankees plan to schedule a day for Roger Clemens (left hamstring tweak) to throw in a simulated game sometime before the playoffs begin. Torre said that he had no problem in waiting on Clemens as a member of his potential American League Division Series rotation because of the 45-year-old's impressive resume.
"We're waiting on him because of who he is and what he is," Torre said. "It's not that he needs to pitch because he's Roger Clemens. It's that you want him to pitch because he's Roger Clemens and he can do things that other people can't do."
Bombers bits: The Yankees have organizational meetings planned for early Wednesday. One item of note: Torre would prefer to play Johnny Damon in left field over Hideki Matsui in a playoff series. ... Kyle Farnsworth showed improved location on Monday after mechanical tweaks, Torre said. ... Right-hander Darrell Rasner has been working out in Tampa, maintaining his strength and continuing to throw. He has not appeared in the Majors since breaking a finger in a May 19 start at Shea Stadium.
Coming up: The Yankees will continue their three-game set with the Devil Rays on Wednesday night at 7:10 ET, turning to Chien-Ming Wang (18-7, 3.72 ERA) against lefty J.P. Howell (1-5, 6.80 ERA). After winning five straight starts in late August and early September, Wang has been stuck on 18 wins across his last two trips to the mound.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.